Bands like Thee Michelle Gun Elephant don’t come up often. Not only did they deliver ground-breaking material time after time, they knew when to call it a day. Sabrina Heaven
is a bloody excellent send-off to be sure, but I feel it isn’t quite up to snuff when compared to any one of the unwaveringly flawless albums before it, and for that you have to admire their decision to end it when they did. But my content for these guys runs far more extensively than just admiration for folding when they did. There’s just something uniquely refreshing about their sound that, even by today’s high standards, still presents itself as cutting-edge. Their records feel ageless and completely unforgiving; cocksure exuberance that oozes from the pours of every song they craft. They’re also the rare type of band that can deliver the live experience through a studio recording. That
kind of energy where it feels like you’re right in front of them as they tear the stage apart, and there’s no better representation of this than on their 1998 classic, Gear Blues
is a milestone album; a culmination of their experiences correlated together to make arguably the best album of the bunch. The aesthetic emitted from this thing feels like you’re sitting in a sleazy, smoke-filled blues bar drinking whisky shorts. The rubbery, gritty basslines that grapple and smother the frantic drums on “West Cabaret Drive” or “Smoking Billy,” whilst the guitars take charge in melding catchy blues licks with garage-rock overlays to create a blistering sound which’ll have you sashaying down dingy nightclub halls. The band’s template reflects highly on what Nirvana used to do with their song-writing approach with the quiet/loud dynamics partnering up to a foundation of vocal hooks. Of course, TMGE don’t sound like grunge, but Nirvana’s successful blueprint is used as a utility here; meshed with throat-ripping shouts and an unprecedented charge when you hear it all in full swing. There isn’t a better example of this than on “Smoking Billy,” one of their better-known songs, a track that hears the raspy shouts and boisterous wails on top of a slick repetitive rhythm and excellent guitar leads before slipping into a chorus that hears the singer howl “Smoking Billy!” The infectious “oh-wah-oo” line found on the softer, more indie-inspired “Killer Beach” song is another one that uses similar tactics in trying to get into your head. Further highlights come from the surf-rock tinged “Satanic Boom Boom Head,” which has an uplifting feel to the track overall but is matched with a pummelling undertone of quick-tempered drum patters and slams on the toms, with a schizophrenic barrage of guitar screams and feedback that begin to take a hold of the song.
Thee Michelle Gun Elephant have such a distinct sound and feel to them, working as reason why I regard them as one of Japan’s finest rock bands. Their cool demeanour, standing against a black backdrop in dapper suits and sunglasses on the front cover of the album, is followed through immensely when you listen to the stylish music on offer; it’s groovin’, it’s movin’ and it has all the feeling of garage-rock mixed with the attitude and speed of punk. Songs like “Give the Gallon” and “Soul Wrap” sound like a cross between a punk album and Jimi Hendrix’s blues style riffing. I want to say check this album out, but the truth of the matter is, all of their work needs to be heard. They were very talented individuals that said what they needed to before moving on to other ventures, and with the untimely passing of guitarist Futoshi Abe, it brings further gravity on just how important this band’s work was and is.
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